Joseph Selle’s Street Vendor Photography

Joseph SelleJoseph Selle was a mid-century street photographer in San Francisco. He photographed people at the same intersection for years (in front of the “PIX” theater, for quite a few of these), apparently trying to get passersby to purchase the photograph he’d just taken. His pictures are an odd cross between obsessive street photography and when a photographer takes your picture at mile 11 of a half-marathon and mails you a small thumbnail, pitching you poster-sized reprints of your exhausted mug.

Selle’s work was recently shown at UCDavis, and there’s a catalog available. According to their site, Selle “took candid snapshots of pedestrians and then sold the portraits by mail for fifty cents each. When he retired his entire archive–totaling some one million images–went to Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York.”

Joseph Selle And Visual Studies Workshop has uploaded an amazing online archive. The quality of the images leaves something to be desired, but the obsession is intriguing, at least in the biographical sense. Who was this guy?

Here’s a clip from an interview with Aaron Eskind (co-curator of the Davis exhibit) from afterimage:

“Street vendor photography is such an odd specialty that it doesn’t lend itself to professional collegiality – no journals, or professional association conferences. We have 2 brief feature articles from the mid 1960s and again toward his retirement in the mid 1970s from the San Francisco newspapers, but everything else is deduced from the negatives themselves. We haven’t found anyone who knew him. Keep in mind, this guy was out on the street -pretty much in the same location – almost every day for 25 years. His brief obit mentions wife, but no other family.”

Someone filmed a part of the UCDavis installation, and put it on youtube, natch.


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